Review by ayame95
"A Mediocre Platformer with the Soul of an Art Game"
Prince of Persia is a series that has been associated with platforming since the original game came out for the Apple II in the late eighties. The brand made a strong comeback in 2003 with Ubisoft's Sands of Time game. This was followed up by two sequels which suffered from poor art design, but maintained the high level of gameplay. Personally, I was a huge fan of the entire trilogy. Even so, I understand that all things have to end and I'd rather see developers move on to trying new things than reiterate on the same game and ideas ad infinitum until gamers are disgusted by the very notion (see Tony Hawk series).
Thus I was excited to hear when a new game in the series was announced. A refreshing new art style and a reboot for the series was not unwelcome after The Warrior Within's highly disappointing baditude makeover. I was more than ready to give this game a chance.
Prince of Persia is consistent, if nothing else. It is very clear throughout the game what the developer's goals were. They clearly set out to make a beautiful game that was fun to play and produced little stress. In these regards, they succeeded without question. The disappointing news is that quite a bit fell by the wayside in the pursuit of these design goals. This review will offer an analysis of where Prince of Persia succeeds and fails, with an eye towards detail in the hopes of aiding the decision of gamers considering this game for play or purchase.
STORY & CHARACTERS 7/10
Prince of Persia followers the story of a rogue who loses his way on the way home from some adventure or other in a huge sandstorm. Separated from his donkey laden with treasure, he quite literally bumps into a woman fleeing pursuing soldiers. The two fall in together, and the Prince quickly learns that this woman (Elika) is the princess of a fallen kingdom that has kept a dark god sealed away in it's depths. Of course the dark god is escaping, and it's up to the Prince and Elika to clear the land of corruption and seal the dark god away again.
There is a clear nod to Fumitsu Ueda's games here. The game features a giant world with a temple at the center that must periodically be returned to (think Shadow of the Colossus). The Prince and Elika traversing the world together are reminiscent of Ico and the Princess (although Elika does participate in combat and basically just follows the Prince around).
Perhaps in an effort to distinguish itself from these games, Ubisoft implement some questionable decisions with regards to the characters. The Prince and Elika basically talk like two contemporary American teenagers, featuring such highlights as I saw you checking out my ass and Give me a break, princess! The two constantly trade sarcastic barbs and for at least the first part of the game are incredibly annoying. However, given some time, the characters do grow on you a bit, as the player comes to see romantic tension between the two as they join together to clear the land of corruption. It never got to the point where I felt like I supported the decision to make the characters this way.
One disappointing decision was to basically make much of the story optional for the players by offering optional dialogue. Players can initiate a conversation between the Prince and Elika at almost anytime at the press of a button (which usually dishes some tidbits on the story), or choose to eschew it entirely. Unfortunately, these conversations stop gameplay entirely and force the player to sit through a little fixed camera scene, removing them from the game entirely. It really would have been nice to be able to hold these conversations as the Prince and Elika navigate the world, especially given how little effort gameplay requires (see below).
One point that does deserve mention is the ending. I think we all know that far too many games have been plagued by lackluster cliffhanger endings in recent years. Without giving anything away, Prince of Persia is one game that gets it right in terms of wrapping up the story in a satisfactory manner while still leaving the future open for a continuation of the story, and a lot of developers could learn from Ubisoft's example (perhaps they learned their lesson after confusingly disappointing ending of Assassin's Creed).
Ubisoft, as a developer, has clearly been moving in the direction of trying to automate as much of gameplay as possible, at least with regards to their platformers. This worked well in Assassin's Creed, giving the players just enough freedom to explore the superb environments without having to micromanage every movement. In Prince of Persia, this has been taken to the extreme. Players navigate through the world nearly effortlessly, requiring a minimal amount of button pressing (usually the same button over and over again, BTW). The game is incredibly forgiving with regards to timing, jump angles, etc. I often found myself feeling that the game was almost playing itself, and while there is certainly something to be said for reducing complexity, inducing the sensation of basically managing something running on autopilot is a bit much.
Despite what issues may exist with the platforming, combat is far, far worse. The Prince fights one enemy at a time in a small, enclosed environment. Combos, attacks and defensive moves are reduced to simple sequences of button presses, and although there are a fair number of combos, there is never any motivation to explore them as a few basic ones can be used repeatedly throughout the game. What's more, a healthy dose of quicktime events (perhaps the most annoying trend in gameplay at the moment) are thrown in. Even blocking and counter attacks are made ridiculously easy by putting up a giant picture of the button on the screen every time the opportunity arises. The only upside really is that this makes for highly cinematic fight sequences too bad the gameplay has to suffer so far.
One controversial decision that readers are most likely aware of is the gameplay element in which Elika saves the prince every time he is about to die. If he falls, she catches him and brings him back the last stable piece of ground. If he falls in combat, she revives him with a magical hand wave (to be fair, enemies also regain most of their health in this event). Although some people were upset by this decision, I actually believe it is to be commended, as all it is really doing is automating the process of dying, being booted back out to a menu screen, and then being forced to sit through a reload. I don't have any issue with increasing the amount of time that I'm not playing the game.
What is so disappointing about this element s the missed opportunity it represents. The best moments in platforming are when a player sees where they need to go and knows what they have to do, but needs to try repeatedly to perfect their gameplay execution to reach their goal. Ubisoft could have taken Elika's saving ability to create some incredibly challenging gameplay, offering incredibly difficult platforming sequences but reducing stress by instantly bringing the player back to the beginning after failure.
But alas, this is not the case. In fact, Prince of Persia is one of the easiest games you'll ever play. Start to finish, at no point is the game especially difficult and nearly ever section can be breezed through with little-to-no effort. What this ultimately means is that while the developers have successfully eliminated the element of frustration so common to the genres, any sense of reward or accomplishment has fallen by the wayside. A gamer cannot be expected to feel satisfied about accomplishing something that takes no effort to complete.
Much was also made of Prince of Persia's open-ended gameplay, but while it is true that the levels of the game can be completed in any order, we are once again forced to witness difficulty as a casualty of war. In an effort to really let players do things in whatever order they choose, every section had to be the same level of difficulty: ridiculously easy.
The game is divided into twenty or thirty small areas. Each region begins the game as corrupted. Usually just one path is open through the level, which players traverse to an eventually boss fight. There are only four bosses in the game, so players fight the same enemies in nearly identical environments repeatedly. Each area is then purged of corruption, at which point the entire region opens up, and is filled with lightseeds, Prince of Persia's arbitrary collectible item (come on, every platformer has them). Personally, I'm not against the idea of backtracking if implemented well (see the Metroid Series or Dead Space for good examples), or even using collectibles to encourage exploration. But having to explore identical environments twice in a row repeatedly got annoying rather quickly, and was an incredibly obvious ploy to extend gameplay.
Collecting lightseeds in Prince of Persia is necessary in order to unlock one of four special plates scattered throughout the region. Players return to the hub section of the map to acquire the ability to use one of these plates, the use of which is necessary to access four of the game's regions. They can be acquired in any order, and while two of the plates just magically warp players to locations marked by similar plates, the other two introduce new, simple gameplay elements. One of these is reasonably well-implemented while another highlights the game's camera issues and probably should have been left out entirely.
GRAPHICS & SOUND 10/10
Prince of Persia simply cannot be faulted in the area of presentation. The developers clearly set strong goals with regards to art design and quite literally built the game around them. The environments (built with the Assassin' Creed engine) are large and gorgeous, and you will frequently find yourself stopping just to admire the scenery.
Ubisoft choose to go with a less realistic look for Prince of Persia, and the result is a stunning cell-shaded look (or something approaching it). The environments are breathtaking (like something out of a dream), and the characters are emotive. There is really very little even to nitpick here (the Prince's muscles look painted on), and overall the game is truly a work of art.
Animations are also incredibly fluid, and the Prince's gravity-defying leaps and bounds seem somehow possible. Despite looking with a very careful eye, I could not spot a single transition animation in the entire game. It's that smooth. The aforementioned easy gameplay blends well with this, making the smooth flow of the game a pleasure to watch. It's just too bad it's not a pleasure to play.
The sound is quite good, with sound effects and music being very well-suited to the environment. The 5.1 mix isn't perfect, but it's more than up to the task of supporting the rest of the game.
Prince of Persia is of a somewhat decent length by today's standards. Obviously experiences will vary with playstyle, but 8-10 hours is probably a fairly accurate estimate. The Prince does not need to collect all lightseeds to complete the game, and there is an achievement for getting them all. So players who really enjoy the simplistic, stress-free platforming may be able to extend their experience a bit. Beyond that, Ubisoft offers a few different character skins but little else to motivate players to return to Prince of Persia.
Ubisoft deserves praise for setting goals that were primarily artistic in nature, and remaining faithful to them through every element of the game. Prince of Persia is beautiful in a way that very few games can be. It is rare that you can read a developer's intentions so clearly as you play through a game, and even rarer to see them execute on them so perfectly. Which is why it's such a shame that gameplay fell on the cutting room floor somewhere along the way. Prince of Persia is too easy and offers too little in the way of reward to offer any fulfillment.
Is this a notable work of art? Yes, without question. Is it a great game or even a good one? Sadly, the answer is no.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 01/09/09
Game Release: Prince of Persia (US, 12/02/08)
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